Lead Story

Bleisure Beckons: When Business Travellers Take Time off Work

A portmanteau of business and leisure, rapid growth of bleisure in the last two years reflects the evolution of travel and brings hope to the hospitality and tourism industry

The concept of adding some leisure time to work while on a business trip is rapidly gaining ground. Photos: Shutterstock

I am going to Costa Rica in two weeks,” announced a friend who worked as a data analyst at a Big Four consulting firm. His excitement suggested that he might be headed on a vacation. But as he disclosed more details, my misunderstanding faded. He was going for a work trip—or at least that is how he put it. Of course, given that it was his first-ever international trip, and Costa Rica is at the top of any keen traveller’s wish list, it could not be just that. When he returned, his watch covered a tattoo on his wrist, and his memory was fresh with tales from the central American country.  

Business trips have evolved. Travelling for work once meant that sightseeing was limited to the journey from the airport to the hotel and vice versa. Now, it offers an opportunity to explore. A portmanteau of business and leisure, bleisure involves fusing a work trip with activities that are usually reserved for a vacation. While this trend may have grabbed the industry’s attention now, it has been in the making for a few years.

Bleisure So Far

The Traveller Value Index 2023 report by online travel company Expedia notes that 76% of participants wish to extend their work trip for leisure purposes, and 28% plan to opt for a flexication. But Indian travellers have always been keen to take advantage of the places their work takes them. The same report, published in 2018, notes popular preference for blended travel, stating that 60% of the participants indicated extending their work trips for leisure.

While bleisure may not be new, its popularity is. Over the last two years, the bleisure travel market size has grown considerably and is poised to expand in the next decade.

“In 2022, it was valued at $315.30 billion and is estimated to reach $731.4 billion by 2032, growing at a CAGR of 8.9% between those years. This presents a great opportunity for the travel and hospitality industry, which will need to constantly innovate to ensure that the changing needs of the bleisure travellers are cared for,” says Santosh Kumar, country manager for India, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Indonesia at Booking.com, an online travel agency.

While one may assume that top executives have contributed to its surge, research and surveys paint a different picture. Millennials top the charts, accounting for 57% of the bleisure travellers, followed by Gen Z at 53%.

However, not every work trip is a perfect prospect for a bleisure trip. The destination influences the decision greatly. The Expedia study notes that the key factors influencing professionals to extend their trips for a few days for downtime include the kind of entertainment or activities one can experience, the ease of getting around and the presence of the destination on one’s bucket list.

Striking a Balance

What happens when you mix business with pleasure? Traditionally, experienced professionals would have advised against it. Nowadays, it means an opportunity for travellers and the tourism industry. While travellers consider it a chance to unwind, recharge or discover places their work takes them to, hotels, airlines and tour operators view it as a chance for more profit, especially after the pandemic.

Three years ago, when Covid-19 pressed the pause button on travel and in-office presence, swapping it with work-from-home arrangement, the tourism industry grappled with huge losses and an urgent need to adapt to the new normal and rethink its strategy. In the shadow of these large-scale changes, a new way of life positioned itself for growth, propelled by the work-from-home culture and the blending of the personal and professional.

The flexibility offered by remote work encouraged more professionals to balance their work with activities in their personal life. It had become perfectly acceptable to follow a meeting with a yoga class or clubbing a work trip with leisure activities like heading out on a street food tour after an in-person client meeting. Numerous reports, such as Expedia’s report and Booking.com’s Travel Predictions 2023, indicate that the growth of bleisure is closely linked to remote working or work-from-home arrangements.

“In the post-pandemic era of remote work, flexible work schedules and rapid digitisation, the lines between work and vacation have blurred more than ever. However, we have observed that, unlike business trips before Covid-19, employees are seeking more opportunities to build team camaraderie in real life; 69% of respondents would like to see their employer use the money saved from the shift to remote/hybrid working models on corporate travel or retreats,” says Kumar, citing the Booking.com report.

Another key reason why many professionals have embraced the trend is that it is an ideal way to maximise time while on a limited budget. Adding a couple of days to a work trip to see a new city or taking time out to engage in other activities while travelling for work is a great saving hack. Several young professionals, who may be on a budget, consider making the most of their business travel by branching out and doing things otherwise reserved for a vacation.

Aviation Industry’s Take-Off

Bleisure has many advantages to speak for its popularity. With longer hours and work eclipsing a significant part of our lives, mixing up a business trip with leisure activities brings professionals several benefits, which then translates to benefits for businesses and employers.  

The Booking.com report notes that 76% of business travellers believe that exploring new places inspires them to be more productive at work. In addition, it ensures employee retention, allows employees to return to work feeling motivated and rewarded and even attracts newer talent.

Besides being beneficial to employees and employers, the rise in bleisure travel has also been advantageous to the tourism industry. The surge in bookings and extended stays has helped the hospitality and airline industry restore its performance to pre-pandemic levels.
It is known that maximum percentage of global revenue for high-end hotel chains comes from business travel. At the same time, the higher frequency of bookings has helped the aviation industry.

Rajan Malhotra, commercial director at luxury hotel Conrad Bengaluru, says, “This trend certainly means more revenue opportunities, improved guest experience and increased loyalty for hotels. Compared to other categories, bleisure travel has always been consistent across markets. While leisure trips spike during the holiday and festive season, bleisure paves the way for hospitality players to reap the benefits of repeat travel and occupancy during the off-season.”

The corporate traveller has always been the aviation industry’s favourite for consistency. However, the fusion of business and leisure has nudged the latter to think beyond the usual offerings. To appeal to the bleisure traveller, many have begun to offer packages that include business-class tickets and discounted leisure activities, like tours. Several airlines have also introduced multi-city flights and flexible booking options, allowing business travellers to extend their work trips without breaking the bank.

“Professionals who extend their business trips for leisure purposes contribute to higher passenger volumes, especially during weekends and holidays. It has also benefited airlines in terms of revenue generation,” says Bader Ali Habib, head of South Asia region for Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism.   

Room for More

The burgeoning trend of mixing business with leisure has also shaped the hospitality industry’s offerings to include more amenities. A significant development has been the inclusion of workspaces within the hotel. Earlier, hotels were exclusively reserved for catching a break from work. Now, these spaces have been redesigned to enhance productivity.

Destinations popular among bleisure travellers have also begun offering “workcation” packages—curated offerings that include additional features, such as guided city tours and rooms that can be used as private workspaces.

“Bleisure as a concept and practice also allows hoteliers to design packages that facilitate business travel with special rates, complimentary planning services for leisure activities or attraction passes or extended stay on  the properties at special rates. Different rates could also be offered for business travellers with accompanying family to further enhance the leisure component of their duty travel,” says Kean Bon Lim, area director for India, South Asia and Africa in the Singapore Tourism Board.

While its effect on the hospitality and aviation industry has been apparent, local communities and homegrown businesses have benefitted immensely from bleisure travel. Add to that its contribution to enhancing a destination’s year-round appeal, and the trend shows no signs of slowing down.

Habib adds, “The rising trend of bleisure travel has significantly impacted both local communities and businesses in Dubai. It has increased visitor spending, benefiting various sectors such as hospitality, retail, dining and entertainment. Their heightened sustainability awareness has encouraged local businesses to adopt eco-friendly initiatives, promote responsible tourism and community-focused projects.”

Travelling Green

While bleisure has become a hot favourite in the hospitality and aviation sector for many reasons, it also finds fans among eco-conscious travellers. Adding a few extra days to a work trip not only proves advantageous for the tourism industry and the traveller but is also considered a sustainable practice. Extended stays in a single destination when travelling abroad can significantly reduce the carbon footprint compared to taking several shorter trips.

Moreover, for travellers, it also provides an opportunity to explore the city they are travelling to and the surrounding, lesser-known and offbeat locations without doubling their spending.

Many tourism boards have embraced the growing popularity of bleisure. Tourism boards of popular destinations such as London and Germany have banked on their different versions of the “Stay A Little Longer” campaign, nudging travellers to explore more in the city and beyond. Doing so helps local businesses extensively, as staying longer allows a traveller to patronise nearby food joints or shops, even in destinations that may not be on a traveller’s radar. And, when combined with eco-friendly choices, for example, booking sustainable accommodations and opting for public transport, bleisure’s green imprint only gets enhanced further.

Brighter Future

Even though bleisure’s success can largely be credited to the pandemic and the renewed focus on balancing work and life, its popularity as most companies return to work from office does not show signs of waning. Instead, it has cemented its position as a strong travel trend. So much so that even corporates are beginning to embrace it as they recognise the value it brings to their employees, and, as a result, to the organisation.

As business travel becomes more frequent, the chance to take it a notch higher and convert it to bleisure is set to become more common. For organisations, incorporating defined parameters for bleisure in their travel policies proves beneficial as it ensures that possible challenges, like non-communication, lack of visibility and uncontrolled expenses, are avoided.

With businesses welcoming the trend’s positive effects and business travellers experiencing its positive impacts first-hand, the trend is here to stay.